kiva (kēˈvə) [key], large, underground ceremonial chamber, peculiar to the ancient and modern Pueblo. The modern kiva probably evolved from the slab houses (i.e., storage pits and dwellings that were partly underground and lined with stone slabs set on edge) of their cultural ancestors, the Basket Makers. A modern kiva is either a rectangular or a circular structure, with a timbered roof. It is entered through a hatchway by means of a ladder. The floor is made of smooth sandstone slabs, and the walls of fine masonry. There is a dais at one end, a fire pit in the center, and an opening in the floor at the other end. This orifice represents the entrance to the lower world and the place of emergence through which life came to this world. The walls also have a symbolic significance and are decorated with mythological figures. Women are traditionally restricted from entering a kiva. Men use the kiva for secret ceremonies, as a lounging place, and as a workshop where weaving is done.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.